July 21, 2006

Fall Marriage Supplement

God’s plan for marriage:
Natural Family Planning Awareness Week is July 23-29

By Daniel Sarell
Special to The Criterion

The U.S. Catholic bishops have proclaimed July 23-29 as National Natural Family Planning (NFP) Awareness Week.

This causes us to reflect and evaluate how we are doing with this ministry. As the archdiocesan agency responsible for promoting NFP, I believe the Office of Family Ministries staff has made great strides in the past year, not the least of which will be the upcoming training and introduction of the program “God’s Plan for a Joy-Filled Marriage.” This program can greatly strengthen our marriage ministries, both at the parish and archdiocesan levels.

Both experience and statistics show that the Church as a whole struggles to effectively communicate its teachings on sexuality and family planning.

According to a poll taken in 2001, “a majority [of American Catholics] disagree with Church teachings … that artificial birth control is morally wrong [36 percent agree and 61 percent disagree]” (Zogby International and LeMoyne College, “Contemporary Catholic Trends”).

More recent research from the National Center for Health Statistics shows that a vast majority of married Catholics in their reproductive years are not following the Church’s moral teaching on family planning, and are using some form of artificial contraception.

A statistical “zero” (which is less than 0.01 percent) was recorded in 2002 for women ages 20 to 24 for use of the more modern, reliable forms of Natural Family Planning (0.8 percent of women ages 20 to 24 reported using the calendar method).

Given the valiant efforts of those who teach and promote NFP, we may be tempted to simply decry the culture and anoint ourselves “prophets in the wilderness.” However, the time has come to find new and creative ways of communicating the Church’s teaching, without watering it down.

Much of the rhetoric used to promote NFP turns people off unnecessarily, rendering the beautiful teaching underneath misunderstood. We can no longer assume that young people are pre-disposed to agree with the premises of the argument, much less its conclusion.

From an evangelization perspective, we have to recognize that there are progressive steps that need to be taken, which may not “convert” married couples to NFP after an hour-long introduction or a 12-minute homily.

Rather, concerted efforts need to be made for consistently reinforcing our values so that the natural implications, such as embracing morally acceptable family planning methods, can be perceived by couples themselves as normal and logical, rather than radical or arbitrary.

As your family ministries’ office staff, we are working hard to develop ways in which we can till good soil and plant good seeds so that we may see more longer term and effective results, which we can only do with God’s help and yours.

We are already talking with colleagues around the country on this issue, but your feedback and support is essential.

• What grabs your attention about family planning?

• What is the nature of your objections?

• What resources need to be made more available to help support effective promotions?

Parishes can benefit greatly by training leaders, advocates and ministers already in place in a proven pedagogy, such as the “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage” program scheduled in October.

Beyond all the moral issues surrounding the use of birth control, there are certain positive consequences to the use of Natural Family Planning. It is good for marriage in general and each couple’s marriage in particular.

On a universal level, NFP affirms the dignity of the gift of our bodies and of our sexuality. Also, NFP strengthens both the unity of married couples’ “free, total, faithful and fruitful” commitment to each other that they vowed at their wedding, which includes openness to children. Couples accomplish this through authenticity to each other and through more open communication.

What a gift women can receive when their husbands understand and grow in sensitivity to their fertility cycles. What a gift it is for a couple to have varied means and opportunities available for showing their affection and renewing their commitment throughout their lives. Practicing NFP challenges and guides couples toward these gifts.

Finally, NFP (or any other morally acceptable method of family planning) allows married couples to be a true sign and sacrament of Christ’s love for the Church, which holds nothing back, totally self-giving, appropriate, and healthy.

Join us in renewing our commitment to the Church’s teachings and in supporting healthy sacramental marriages.

The Office of Family Ministries would like to thank those pastoral leaders who faithfully promote healthy marriages, every NFP teaching couple, those who present NFP information at our Pre-Cana Conferences for engaged couples, and especially St. Luke parishioners Mike and Ann Green of Indianapolis for their leadership in the Couple-to-Couple League and for their service to the archdiocese.

(Daniel Sarell is the director of the archdiocesan Office of Family Ministries. For information about the “God’s Plan for a Joy-filled Marriage” program in October and Natural Family Planning classes offered in the archdiocese throughout the year, call the Family Life Office at 317-236-1596 or 800-382-9836, ext. 1596.) †

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